In a scathing indictment of Pakistan's treatment of Afghan refugees, a human rights group charged Monday that the country is forcing hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees back to their homeland, which is still beset by war and crushing poverty. It also said that a $400 stipend the United Nations refugee agency gives to refugees who return to Afghanistan is tantamount to a bribe to convince reluctant Afghans to leave Pakistan. ``The exodus amounts to the world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times,'' the Human Rights Watch report said.. Both the U.N. and Pakistan denied the allegations. The report by the New York-based rights group was harsh in its criticism of the U.N. agency for not condemning what it insisted is Pakistan's forced return of the refugees. The number of Afghan refugees returning from Pakistan, already at the highest level in years, may increase this year if Pakistan maintains its forceful policies, Human Rights Watch said.
Last year, hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees left Pakistan, a 12-year-high that the rights group called the "world's largest unlawful mass forced return of refugees in recent times". Aid workers and Afghan officials worry that the returnees are coming back to a country in conflict and economic crisis, led by a government already struggling to maintain basic living standards. Pakistan has provided millions of Afghans with refuge for decades, and police and officials deny reports that they are targeting Afghans, though officials have said they should go home. (Source: AP/Reuters)